Nigeria’s Educational System and the Democratization of Ignorance

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By UGOCHUKWU RAYMOND OGUBUARIRI

It has become an incontestable truism that Nigeria’s educational sector is in doldrums. Even with the entire hullabaloo being made about “transformation” of the country, yet, the drums of shame in the sector have continued to resonate and the naked dancers are not showing any sign of fatigue.
Only few days ago, the National Examinations Council,NECO, released the result of its recently conducted Senior School Certificate Examination. It announced perplexedly that 90% of the total number of students who took the exam failed. Few moments after that bewildering disclosure, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, equally released the result of its latest university matriculation exam in which it also informed that only 3 (out of over 1.5 million students who sat for the exam) scored 300 and above. Perhaps, what is even more dispiriting is the fact that these latest results as released by the two examination bodies are, ipso facto, symptomatic of a curious historical trend in which the fortunes of Nigeria’s educational system – including students’ performances in exams – have continued on a vicious spiral of decline, devaluation and decadence.
In a bid to make sense of this distasteful national malady, various reasons have been adduced by commentators and analysts as being responsible for the unsavoury state of affairs in the country’s educational sector. They include – but not limited to – inadequate funding, insufficient staff training,poor reading culture amongst students, the negative influence of globalization on Nigerian youths, undue emphasis on paper qualification, widespread malpractices often with parental endorsement, etc.
When considered singly or in combination, these factors are not irrelevant to the problem; indeed, they could be serious obstacles to the educational development of a country.
Nevertheless, it has to be understood that the pursuit of a country’s educational development does not occur in a vacuum. In concrete terms, the prospects of realizing such a lofty national objective is always defined by the manifest vision, commitment and priorities (or their lack thereof) of a government in office and a particular elite in power in a given historical epoch. In the words of Chimaroke Mgba: “The leadership in Nigeria is not serious as it lacks the courage, innovation and ideas fitting the 21st century.”
It is more involved in showmanship and sloganeering, than in actual visioning and pragmatism necessary for Nigeria’s ‘transformation.’ For example, what is the vision of education under the current government? What structures are on ground to realize it? Where is the passion and urgency on the part of the executioners of the vision? Who are the actual executioners?”
The aforementioned posers become even more compelling when one considers the fact that Nigeria purports to be practising democracy. If democracy is truly about “the people” and Nigeria is genuinely democratic, why then has Nigeria’s democratic experience since 1999 proceeded side by side with a continual massive harvest of parlous and horrifying students’ performances and general devaluation in the standard of education in the country? Similarly, if democracy is rightly conceived as a necessary catalyst for people-centered development – including educational development, why has Nigeria remained incorrigibly notorious as a society that propagates ignorance, repudiates intellectualism and perpetuates the underdevelopment of its human capital?
To comprehend this odious phenomenon, one needs to understand the mindset and driving force of the country’s governing elite regarding the meaning and essence of democracy. For them, democracy is essentially “a means to power.”
In this context, power is seen as the ultimate guarantor of mortal well-being and is, therefore, sought with maniacal zeal and determination. Inevitably, the neurotic quest for power and the hobbesianism of its politics have inclined the country’s political elite to subvert and truncate democracy; the essence of democracy has been diluted and reduced to the level where it no longer imposes any demand or restraint on the political class. In short, democracy has become a major casualty to elite politics in Nigeria.
Because democracy has lost its essence and has been turned into an apparatus for projecting the egotism and inordinate ambitions of the power elite, the benefits of democracy such as people-centered development (with particular emphasis on educational development) have all been lost and aborted. In this regard, it is hardly surprising that the comparative records of Nigeria’s performance in the significant areas of manufacturing, power generation and distribution, security, employment creation, economic diversification, provision of critical social infrastructures, etc. indicate that the country has not only stagnated but has become arguably worse than it was during the dark days of military despotism. In today’s democratic Nigeria, the only viable sector that has enjoyed uninterrupted maturation and development is “corruption.”
Not surprisingly, the quality and standard of education in Nigeria has gone to hell in a hand-basket. The educational system is mired in a state of complete shambles primarily because the propagation of illiteracy and un-enlightenment, especially amongst the youth population, has become an integral part of the strategy of maintaining the power and hegemonic dominance of the ruling elite. This point is easily illustrated by the experience of the dispossessed and marginalized elements in Northern Nigeria popularly called almajiris.
The identity and personality of the almajiri is defined by his lack of basic and functional education and, consequentially, by his irrevocable induction into the morass of oppressive poverty and squalid existence. More significantly, the marginality of the almajiri coupled with his dehumanizing existence ensure that he is readily compliant as a manipulable tool in the hands of his oppressor whom he mistakes (through tribalism and religion) as his “political leader” and “champion of democracy.” In the name of politics, the almajiri is brainwashed into accepting the propriety of killing, maiming and vandalizing, all with the expectation of the divine reward of celestial virgins. Yet, in killing to sustain the power of his oppressor, the oppressed merely underscores and affirms the reality of his bondage.
To return to the larger picture, the educational system in Nigeria has taken a terrific nosedive because ignorance has become highly functional as a means of sustaining the docility, passivity, short-sightedness and political amateurism of the governed. To put it succinctly, ignorance has become democratized! One sure way the ruling class has achieved this motive is by ensuring that the public schools are, at best, “citadels of intellectual kwashiorkor.” The state of our public schools has become so shambolic and so decrepit that it will only take a rascally parent to sentence his child to such an undeserved purgatory.
Paradoxically, the country’s leaders (such as the Atikus and Obasanjos of this world) continue to be much more preoccupied with the competition for private ownership of academic institutions.
In conclusion, the crisis of education in Nigeria is not only real, but poignantly so. We are saddled with a generation of youths whose commitment to academic excellence is, at best,cosmetic. Our young boys are more knowledgeable about all the minute details concerning Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal, than they are about Pythagoras Theory. Our young ladies spend much time retouching their hair than they actually spend in retouching their head.
Expectedly, Nigeria has emerged as a society that revolves on the fulcrum of dysfunctionality and dislocation. There is one major lesson that the leadership and Nigerians at large should learn from the present state of affairs. As Chima Mgba puts it, “Development does not come by miracle; it comes by hard thinking, pragmatic leadership and passion to make a difference. It comes by destroying the old and creating thenew and not by building on the old to create the new. Transformation does not come by declaration, but by demonstration.”

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